photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Jeff Uveino
TORONTO — It is often said that a team’s first win can be elusive.
But what the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lacked over its first three games, it found in two instrumental freshmen on Saturday night.
The Bonnies (1-3), led by Alejandro Vasquez and Justin Winston, held on to defeat Rutgers (3-1), 80-74, at Scotiabank Arena.
Vasquez shot 8-of-12 from the field, and 3-of-5 from three-point range, to rack up 20 points.
After the Scarlet Knights worked to get back in the game, Vasquez hit a corner three with 2:30 remaining in the game to put the Bonnies up by eight points.
“That’s a big shot, right there,” Vasquez said. “I was just hoping it would go in.”
Vasquez also pulled down four rebounds and handed out two assists in 32 minutes on the court.
The guard oozed confidence on the court, as he has all season. Vasquez has showed Bona fans that whether he shoots the ball or drives to the basket, he wants to score the ball.
“The memo from the beginning was to come out with energy,” he said. “We wanted to keep that energy the same throughout the game.”
Winston showed his ability to shoot the ball, as he shot 4-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-11 from the field. He scored 19 points in 34 minutes.
“(Vasquez and Winston) grew up and played with confidence,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “With freshmen, you never know when the light is going to come on. It went on tonight for both of those guys and they couldn’t have played better.”
Schmidt mentioned that with forward Osun Osunniyi out due to an injury, the Bonnies need to rely on their younger players to step up.
“Our young guys are put in a position where a couple of them need to have some success,” Schmidt said. “The game wasn’t too big for them, and that’s what we need.”
SBU shot 49 percent from the field, which was an improvement from the 35 percent that it had shot over its first three games.
The Bonnies also found some better luck from beyond the arc, shooting 45 percent from three. That is a vast improvement from the 23 percent that the team had shot from there before this game.
Kyle Loftton scored 17 points and Dom Welch added 11 points.
“You only gain confidence by playing well, and not just in practice,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully this game will push them forward because they played well against a really good team and should be proud of their efforts.”
Rutgers was hurt by poor shooting, was they shot 42 percent from the field and, more notably, 28 percent from three.
“Basketball is a humbling game and you get what you deserve,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and we didn’t.”
The Scarlet Knights had four players reach double digits in scoring, including Caleb McConnell leading the way with 13 points.
Myles Johnson scored 12 points, Geo Baker added with 11 points and Akwasi Yeboah chipped in with 10 points.
“I think we’re a much better basketball team than how we played today, but to Bonaventure’s credit, they did a good job of not allowing us to play like a good basketball team,” Pikiell said.
In an NBA arena 170 miles away from SBU, the atmosphere felt like a Bona home game at times.
“I’m proud to be the coach at Bonaventure,” Schmidt said. “The alumni, boosters and students come and really do a great job. We have 30,000 alums and it feels like they’re all here.”
The Bonnies will have to wait a week before playing again, as they’ll travel to Buffalo on Saturday to play little three rival Canisius at KeyBank Center.